Year – 1970
In August 1939, the United States imposes a trade embargo on a belligerent Japan, severely limiting raw materials. Influential Japanese army figures and politicians push through an alliance with Germany and Italy in September 1940 despite opposition from the Japanese navy and prepare for war. The newly appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, reluctantly plans a pre-emptive strike on the U.S. Pacific Fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor, believing that Japan’s best hope of controlling the Pacific Ocean is to quickly annihilate the American fleet. Air Staff Officer Minoru Genda is chosen to mastermind the operation while his old Naval Academy classmate Mitsuo Fuchida is selected to lead the attack.
Meanwhile, in Washington, U.S. military intelligence has broken the Japanese Purple Code, allowing them to intercept secret Japanese radio transmissions indicating increased Japanese naval activity. Monitoring the transmissions are U.S. Army Col. Bratton and U.S. Navy Lt. Commander Kramer. At Pearl Harbor itself, Admiral Kimmel increases defensive naval and air patrols around Hawaii which could provide early warning of enemy presence. Short recommends concentrating aircraft at the base on the runways to avoid sabotage by enemy agents in Hawaii, so General Howard Davidson of the 14th Pursuit Wing tries dispersing some of the planes to other airfields on Oahu to maintain air readiness.
Several months pass while diplomatic tensions escalate. As the Japanese ambassador to Washington continues negotiations to stall for time, the large Japanese fleet sorties into the Pacific. On the day of the attack, Bratton and Kramer learn from intercepts that the Japanese plan a series of 14 radio messages from Tokyo to the Japanese embassy in Washington. They are also directed to destroy their code machines after receiving the final message. Deducing the Japanese intention to launch a surprise attack immediately after the messages are delivered, Bratton tries warning his superiors of his suspicions but encounters several obstacles: Chief of Naval Operations Harold R. Stark is indecisive over notifying Hawaii without first alerting the President while Army Chief of Staff General George Marshall’s order that Pearl Harbor be alerted of an impending attack is stymied by poor atmospherics that prevent radio transmission and by bungling when a warning sent by telegram is not marked urgent. At dawn on December 7, the Japanese fleet launches its aircraft. Their approach to Hawaii is detected by two radar operators but their concerns are dismissed by the duty officer. Similarly the claim by the destroyer USS Ward to have sunk a Japanese miniature submarine off the entrance to Pearl Harbor is dismissed as unimportant. The Japanese thus achieve complete and total surprise and Commander Fuchida sends the code to begin the attack: “Tora! Tora! Tora!”
The damage to the naval base is catastrophic and casualties are severe. Seven battleships are either sunk or heavily damaged. General Short’s anti-sabotage precautions prove a disastrous mistake that allows the Japanese aerial forces to destroy aircraft on the ground easily. Hours after the attack ends, General Short and Admiral Kimmel receive Marshall’s telegram warning of impending danger. In Washington, Secretary of State Cordell Hull is stunned to learn of the attack and urgently requests confirmation before receiving the Japanese ambassador. The message that was transmitted to the Japanese embassy in 14 parts – a declaration of war – was meant to be delivered to the Americans at 1:00 pm in Washington, 30 minutes before the attack. However, it was not decoded and transcribed in time, meaning the attack started while the two nations were technically still at peace. The distraught Japanese ambassador, helpless to explain the late ultimatum and unaware of the ongoing attack, is bluntly rebuffed by a despondent Hull.
Back in the Pacific, the Japanese fleet commander, Vice-Admiral Chūichi Nagumo, refuses to launch a scheduled third wave of aircraft for fear of exposing his force to U.S. submarines. Aboard his flagship, Admiral Yamamoto solemnly informs his staff that their primary target – the American aircraft carriers – were not at Pearl Harbor, having departed days previously to search for Japanese vessels. Lamenting that the declaration of war arrived after the attack began, Yamamoto notes that nothing would infuriate the U.S. more and ominously concludes: “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”